Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wrongful death claim filed against gun manufacturer and other sellers of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting

The families of nine of the 26 people killed two years ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle used in the shooting.  You can read the complaint here.

The complaint alleges that the defendants should be liable because they knowingly marketed a rifle to the civilian public that has little or no utility for civilian purposes.  The rifle was designed for military purposes.

This type of claim is not totally new, and, unfortunately for the plaintiffs, similar claims have failed in the past.  Also, it should be noted that in 2005, Congress enacted The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits for injuries caused by people using guns for criminal activity. Part of the motivation for the bill came from a case filed by the victims of a shooting rampage by a white supremacist who killed a number of people, including several children, at a Jewish center. The lawsuit claimed that the defendant made more guns than they could sell on the legitimate market with the intention of selling the remainder on the “secondary market” where criminals often buy their guns. In other words, the plaintiffs alleged that the manufacturer marketed the guns knowing they would be used for criminal activity. The lawsuit survived for a long time after the adoption of the Act, but was finally dismissed, in a 2-1 opinion, by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The new complaint related to the Sandy Hook shooting is trying to distinguish the case from those older cases by framing the claim as an exception to the 2005 act, which recognizes a possible claim against someone who "entrusts" a weapon to another.  I am not sure the allegations support that distinction.

In the end, the Sandy Hook complaint is based on the notion that the manufacturer knowingly placed in the market a gun that should not have been marketed because it did not have any appropriate use.  That is similar to the old claims raised against the manufacturers of "Saturday Night Specials" and the "nuisance" claims used against manufacturers who continued to market guns knowing the market among civilians was saturated, etc.

Jonathan Turley has a comment on the case here (he thinks it has little merit).  AboutLawsuits has a little more information here.

UPDATE 10-14-16:  Several sources are reporting today that the lawsuit has been dismissed.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Number of wrongful death claims caused by defective GM cars is likely to continue to rise

The number of confirmed wrongful death claims associated with accidents that may have been caused by recalled ignition switches used in General Motors (GM) vehicles has risen to 30, but officials indicate that the number is expected to continue to rise as the manufacturer processes claims over the next year. Reuters has a story here.  AboutLawsuits has a story here.

UPDATE 12/12/14:   AboutLawsuits is reporting that more than 2,200 personal injury claims have been filed with a General Motors ignition switch recall victim’s compensation fund launched in August, with at least 36 involving wrongful death claims confirmed by the auto maker.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejects Restatement Third of Products Liability

About three weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an important opinion in which it rejected adopting the language of the Restatement Third on Products Liability.  The court decided to retain its analysis based on the principles and case law on Section 402A of the Restatement Second instead.  This includes the choice of arguing/proving a design defect based on a consumer expectations analysis or a cost-benefits analysis.   You can read the opinion here and the concurring opinion here.  (Thanks to the TortsProf blog for the links.)

Max Kennerly, of Litigation and Trial, has a nice comment on the opinion here, and he provides links to shorter comments here, here and here.

Supreme Court hears oral argument regarding Federal Torts Claims Action

Over at the Supreme Court of the US blog (SCOTUS), Howard Wasserman, reports that a couple of days ago, "a subdued Court spent two hours hearing oral arguments in United States v. Wong and United States v. June, considering whether the limitations periods under the Federal Tort Claims Act are jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling. The Justices asked relatively few questions, allowing all four attorneys to speak uninterrupted for long stretches and to provide lengthy answers to many questions."  Go here and here for his complete review of the case and links to the relevant documents. You can listen to the audio of the oral arguments here and here.

California Supreme Court to review constitutionality of damages cap

About a month ago, I lamented the fact that California Proposition 46, an initiative to, among other things, raise the cap on pain and suffering damages, which has not been increased since it was adopted in 1975 was defeated. As I said back then, this is bad new for consumers, victims of malpractice and, as usual, particularly bad for women, the poor, children and people with disabilities, all of whom are most affected by measures that limit recovery of non-economic damages.  (For my coverage of the process leading to the vote on the proposition, go here, here, here, here and here.)

However, just a week or two later it was reported that the California Supreme Court has agreed to review the Constitutionality of the same damages cap at issue in the proposition.  Go here for the story.  This means it is possible the cap will be invalidated entirely which would be beyond what Proposition 46 actually proposed.  Obviously, though, if this happens the legislature probably would work out a new cap. 

The question remains whether the new cap would increase the limits.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  First we have to wait and see what the Supreme Court says.  Stay tuned....

Wrongful death lawsuit filed for death of 12 year old boy killed by police in Cleveland

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, I am sure you have heard of the cases involving police shooting and the protests that followed the lack of indictments in those cases.  You probably also heard of another case in Cleveland where a police officer shot a 12 year old boy just seconds after arriving at a park where the boy was playing with a toy gun, and act that has now been officially ruled a homicide.

It is now being reported that the family of the 12-year-old boy has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two police officers and the city.  Go here for the full story.

Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit holds that a cruise line can be held liable for the medical malpractice of a ship's doctor

About a month ago, the Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit issued an opinion that breaks away from a longstanding approach to medical malpractice cases against cruise lines.  The case is called Franza v Royal Caribbean and you can read it here

Before this decision, courts typically ruled that plaintiffs could not recover from a cruise line for injuries caused by the medical personnel on board a cruise ship because either the doctors were not employees (but independent contractors) or because they were exercising independent medical judgment over which the cruise line had no control and for which it should not be held liable.  In Franza, however, the court held that things have changed and that cruise lines should be subject to liability for the medical personnel they employ.  Accordingly, the court stated
we now confront state-of-the-art cruise ships that house thousands of people and operate as floating cities, complete with well-stocked modern infirmaries and urgent care centers. In place of truly independent doctors and nurses, we must now acknowledge that medical professionals routinely work for corporate masters. And whereas ships historically went 'off the grid' when they set sail, modern technology enables distant ships to communicate instantaneously with the mainland in meaningful ways
The case may also have implications outside of the medical liability areas since cruise lines also employ many other people to provide services to passengers.

Bloomberg law has a short podcast discussing the case and its implications here.  The Daily Report has an article here.